Saturday, October 26, 2013

Almost time to run, almost

Ed. note: I want to give a brief shout out to the competitors in the WKC championships today. My comrade in long cycle, Josh, had a bout of food poisoning after making the trip to Chicago and could not meet his potential when healthy. It was gutsy to lift anyway, and I'm proud of his effort.
My last post detailed the trouble I've been having with sleep lately. That's a real issue, not to be taken lightly. However, I do still get in some good training most days and do still have a schedule for the winter. It is almost time to start conditioning work again, so I've made a little commitment.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Trade it all for a good night's sleep

Today, I missed Squat Day. It's the first Tuesday I haven't gone in to squat in longer than I can remember. I knew something was wrong when I missed Squat Day.

For years now, I have been able to train 4 days per week. This season, I trained a 21-straight-day squat cycle, with good results, in an effort to recalibrate my recovery capacity for 5 days per week. I usually get 5 days, but not always 5 consecutive days. Now, I'm struggling with even that.

The causes have varied. I have a damaged right MCL, and the knee's been sore and loose. My hips have been tight, almost chronically so. Those are nothing new, though. I have lost sleep. I'm waking sporadically during the night, sometimes losing an hour or two of rest. I have a hard line on sleep: I do not lift heavy or lift overhead if my mind is cloudy when I wake up. It's a symptom of other issues.

So, I'm struggling a little to get calibrated this season. I'm 6wks in since the 21-day Squat Challenge. My 2-min work looks good, and my lightweight 5min work looks good. My calluses and grip have benefited from regular heavy swings, and I'm beginning to pry open my overhead position with some therapy work. If I could just get some rest.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Winter is coming

As winter approaches, I'm working to change a seasonal pattern of mine. I usually train barbells in the winter and kettlebells and running in the summer, but there were meets held by three separate organizations in the US on Feb 09 this year. I was barely ready by March. So, I got a space heater for my shed (working name "Pood Pod"), and I'm planning to lift outdoors this autumn down to around 50F. So after a short offseason of this...

my Dec 2014 should look like this...

I love this, by the way. I love everything about it. I wish I was pretty enough to be included, but that is a blog for another day. This sport is, frankly, a brutal activity in and of itself. It is meditative, it is therapeutic, but it is brutal. Nobody should put up with the calluses and blisters, the cramps, the chalk, all this for a health benefit we could probably get from trail running with a pack. But we do. It's a unique mix of iron and power and stamina, not quite like anything else.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Shocking Weight Gain

Please, bear with me to the end. The end is the important part. I'm saving the punchline for later, but let me throw out some numbers in American pounds as points of references.
  • 160.6lb - AKA 73kg weight class limit
  • 149.6lb - IUKL 68kg weight class limit, if I go to US Nationals in the Fall and want to cut down to it
  • 148lb - my natural, effortless weight for the last 5 years. I'm heavier now, on purpose.

The Why of it all.

I have said for some time now that at the top of my health and sport priorities, I am training for my sixties. I have referenced Dan John's "Training for Middle Age and Beyond" many times, including this quote, "the older person also needs to address specific hypertrophy issues". Older people don't grow (back) like younger people. I lost 15 pounds in a 5-day hospital stay. Old people with no muscle mass may lose basic movement skills forever following an atrophy like this. It's time for me to add muscle and bone while I'm still able.

For reference, I was a wasteland through my twenties and thirties. I have never had any upper body mass, save this pooch of a belly that never went away. I played soccer and tennis and rode bicycles for miles when I was young. I've always had good legs, but my shoulders still don't work right.

My last Autumn offseason, I called myself training to get bigger and stronger. I put on like 3 pounds. This offseason, I've focused on upper body muscle and lower body speed, and I'm 6lb heavier in barely 60 days. Competing in the AKA even raised my weight limit from 154lb to 160lb, so I have had every real excuse to bulk up now and trim down for competitions. This is positively serendipitous. I wake up now at 155lb, happy and strong, and looking good in my shirts.

This is where the punchline comes in.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Judging KB Sport

I've been to a few meets, and I've had some mixed experiences with judging. I've had a Russian coach and IUKL judge approve every rep of a very difficult set at a new bell weight. I've also had an American judge give no-counts for confident, consistently-paced reps while I set a new PR and well exceeded a rank score. The rules are fairly clear, actually, so it does beg the question just how subjective this sport can be. The jerk, snatch, and long cycle have one point in common, the top and drop. Let's consider just that point for the sake of brevity.

The Rules

The traditional rules for the jerk are simple, and these points are common to all governing bodies in the sport. See WKC rules, AKA/IUKL rules, and IGSF rules.
  • a first dip of the knees and a ballistic launch of the bell from the chest to a catch overhead on fully-extended arms. The bell must reach the top in a continuous, uniform motion.
  • the lifter must dip a second time during the launch to get below the bell before catching it overhead. The legs must not lock out until after the arms.
  • the bell must come to a stop under control overhead before being dropped into the next rep.
There are common minor variations of these standards. Catching with the legs basically extended but not locked. Extending the knees but not the hips. Incomplete extension of the elbows, but with the bells under control. Widely varied time spent overhead. YouTube videos of champions and world record performances display a vast range of allowed but questionable technique. One organization explicitly allows push-presses in their rules for the jerk, contradicting both the continuous motion rule and the elbows first rule.

Mistakes that earn a no-count are simple and few due to the very sequential nature of the lift standards:
  • if the launch is not sufficient to get the bells above fully-extended arms, the lifter might catch the bell with bent arms and press it up. This non-continuous motion is a no-count in all organizations except the one that allows push-presses.
  • if the lifter lacks the flexibility or confidence to execute the second dip and catch the bells with bent knees, the lifter might lock the knees during the launch, before the arms catch the bell. This lack of a second dip is a no-count but varies tremendously in the depth required between different judges and organizations. If you bend your knees out and back in while standing straight up, some orgs will count it.

The Methods

In other weightlifting sports, one performer takes the platform at a time. Powerlifting is primarily about the final joint alignment and not hitching the lifts up. Weightlifting is primarily about the timing of joint extension and immobilizing the weight overhead, as in kettlebell sport. These barbell sports both have "three white lights", three separate judges evaluating each lift and requiring at least two for the rep to count. A kettlebell sport judge may evaluate 100 reps over a 10 minute span for each lifter. There are usually several platforms running simultaneously, each with a single judge. Scaling three white lights to, say, kettlebells in the Olympics would be a nightmare even I wouldn't watch on TV.

Virtually every international rules document allows for the judge to establish a pace with a confident, consistent lifter and anticipate the count to shave off fractions of a second. Good lifters get a few short reps, maybe with a verbal warning to correct the next rep. Champion lifters may never actually immobilize the bell overhead and get rep counts before their elbows lock. The snatch in particular can become a whirlwind of continuous movement.

The (virtually) only public conversation going on today about judging methods involves the WKC Fixometer, a motion sensor attached to the bell and tracked by a mobile device. The motion sensor itself is documented to have a 0.3sec latency (Facebook chat with Federenko), plus the latency for data transfer and processing before a light/beep is displayed to count the rep. This is advertised as a "0.3 second fixation" standard, but it is clearly observed here...

and here...

... to be far too long for the anticipation and pacing expressly allowed in the rules. So many world records have been established with faster but acceptable technique, judged in real time by a human eye, and without the time between reps for these technical delays. I'd admit this presents a valuable training tool, but I maintain it is not ideal for competition.

The Controversy

The question is not whether we need a mechanical standard; I believe we do. For KB sport to ever appear in the Olympics, this sport will have to facilitate a gym full of lifters without requiring three judges per platform and majority rep counting. The problem today is actually inconsistency.
The Fixometer may be an excellent idea, but requiring an overhead hold as long as a full second for technological reasons is a burden unique to lifters under this one organization. The online "Wayback Machine" records that the WKC rules in Feb 2013 read as follows, emphasis theirs:
"Fixation is the final factor in a Judge issuing a Count. It proves proficiency in the lift, keeps the Meet fair, and aids in safety for the Lifters in the short and long term. We define it as the moment when the kettlebell is motionless in all planes, after the body is aligned and still. The Lifter must control the kettlebell(s) in the overhead position. A noticeable pause, without wobble, drifting or bounce, must be displayed. The Judge may at their discretion anticipate the stable pause and give the qualified lifter a quick count, but at any time the Judge may give a No-Count if the Lifter fails to control the Kettlebell(s). Being fatigued later in the set is no excuse for poor fixation. Fixation is the end of the rep."
The current WKC rules below (emphasis theirs) reflect, not the concepts of immobilization and control of the bell, but the technological limits of their for-sale motion sensor scoring product.
"Fixation Definition:
The kettlebell maintains <= 0.08G acceleration for >= 0.3 seconds, after the body is aligned and still.

Fixation is the final factor in a Judge issuing a Count. It proves proficiency in the lift, keeps the Meet fair, and aids in safety for the Lifters in the short and long term. The Lifter must control the kettlebell(s) in the overhead position. A noticeable pause, without wobble, drifting or bounce, must be displayed. The Judge may at their discretion anticipate the stable pause and give the qualified lifter a quick count, but at any time the Judge may give a No-Count if the Lifter fails to control the Kettlebell(s). Being fatigued later in the set is no excuse for poor fixation. Fixation is the end of the rep."
The ultimate goal is a consistent scoring standard that could be applied to 50 platforms at once with only 50 judges, and this is a step in that direction. It suffers from being highly commercialized and proprietary, and has also become an preapproval method for users wishing to compete at a higher rank. That in itself is not a bad idea. Defining the rules of the sport around the performance of a proprietary virtual stopwatch, however, is a bad idea. If next year's hardware can resolve down to 0.1sec but the software still lags, what expectation will the rules advertise, and how will it be enforced?

Final Thoughts

I'm concerned that the minor variations between "under control" and "fixated" are being stretched from the letter of the law to well beyond the spirit of that law. Any given lifter may oscillate in a stable stance when they breathe deeply. The notion of absolute immobility is impractical, but the notion of stability and control is both practical and necessary. That judges are allowed to quick-count one lifter but delay another lifter due to technical difficulties represents a gross misapplication of the rules. This doesn't even account for different organizations' rules regarding qualities like "alignment" and the second dip and the push press.

I wonder whether the motion-capture system used in movie production might be a better solution. Painted dots on the bells could be monitored by an HD camera connected or even built into a notebook computer. These systems are known to resolve and compute well below 0.1 second, as evidenced in 40fps HD video production and 60fps HD computer gaming. It would also provide the video of record for archive and publishing.

Frankly, I would like to see the day when we have equipment to evaluate a full-stop for 0.1 seconds and keep score automatically. Judges would be free to evaluate joint alignment and press-outs instead of microscopic movements, with the timer serving as a veto instead of a prerequisite. I would also love to see the current world records renewed under those new standards. I believe issues like "alignment" will vary from lifter to lifter and are greatly dependent on style and weight class.  But, the movement of the bell is a simple matter of physics and deserves better attention than we currently give it.